Why Celebrate?

Celebrating involves much more than party poppers and cake! It’s also about recognising and affirming achievements. The joy and gratitude that this creates adds depth to the wonderful spirit that the year’s end can bring. Reflecting meaningfully on these experiences can have a positive impact on the efficacy of learning.

This is part of the reason why the debriefing process is so integral to the Peer Support Program. The Peer Support Program provides opportunities for students to reflect on and celebrate their participation and achievements which we see as integral to the Program’s effectiveness. In doing so, the Program has strong links to the Australian Curriculum’s General Capabilities, such as the Personal and Social Capability elements.

The Personal and Social Capability element of self-awareness involves students reflecting on and evaluating their learning and recognising personal qualities and achievements. Creating opportunities to identify and celebrate the year’s learning across a range of areas can be a powerful way to build positively on students’ self-awareness.

Likewise, school communities can benefit from the process of evaluation and celebration, in terms of both the learning and the valued, trusting relationships that this can create. The Program materials include evaluation surveys which can be used to gather feedback on the Peer Support Program, inform planning for next year, and generate affirmations. Coordinating Teachers can contact their Wellbeing Education Consultant to gain access to these.

Community Approach to Bullying Prevention in South Australia

We congratulate the South Australian Department for Education on the recent release of its bullying prevention strategy, ‘Connected. A community approach to bullying prevention within the school gates and beyond’

The Peer Support Program is a student led initiative that neatly supports the bullying prevention strategy. 

Based on research and consultation, the strategy is underpinned by the knowledge that rather than being a problem of individuals, bullying is a social and relational concern. “Bullying is more likely to occur where the relationships are weakened between a child and their family, their peers, family friends and community members. Bullying may also be more likely where a child is less involved in social groups, activities and networks.” (p.13)

Respectful relationships are enabled by positive social connections within inclusive, informed communities of active and engaged individuals.

The Peer Support Program is a whole school community approach which provides students with skills to improve problem solving, conflict resolution and resilience. Working collaboratively in a Peer Support group gives young people an experience of positive and inclusive community, where respectful behaviour is modelled by peers, and relationships are strengthened.

Our Program materials have focuses on bullying prevention, positive relationships, optimism, resilience, values and leadership.

There are Peer Support Program Implementation Workshops for teachers scheduled in North Adelaide on Thursday 14 November 2019, and at other venues in South Australia on Wednesday 6 May 2020 and Tuesday 27 October 2020. Workshops are one of the keys to involvement in the Program.

If you would like more information on how the Peer Support Program aligns with ‘Connected, A community approach to bullying prevention within the school gates and beyond’ please contact one of our Wellbeing Education Consultants on 1300 579 963.

Thank You Margaret

St Johns College

We specially thank Margaret McNamara from St Johns College in Dubbo NSW, who is retiring from teaching. Ten years ago Margaret implemented the Peer Support Program at her school, to support students in forming positive relationships as well as reducing bullying. She was instrumental in extending the Program to schools across the Diocese.

Margaret told us, “One of my greatest joys of Peer Support – seeing our senior leaders step up, accept responsibility, develop leadership skills and give a glimpse into the wonderful adults they will become. Peer Support has given a whole new layer of depth to my relationships with these students.”

Thank you Margaret for dedicating your time to supporting the wellbeing of Australian students and making a lasting impact on the lives of your school community. 

Margaret McNamara pictured above (left) with Principal Kerry Morris (right)

School Stories: How Does the Peer Support Program Contribute to Students’ Connectedness?

School connectedness is an important protective factor that contributes to students’ mental health and wellbeing. For students to feel a strong sense of belonging, they need to have positive experiences and good relationships with their peers at school. The multi-age Peer Support Program provides students with the opportunity to broaden their connections across the school community in a safe and structured format and also allows them to connect with teachers, by taking on a leadership role. Through hands-on fun activities and discussions, students explore and apply a range of social and emotional skills, leading to improved positive social engagement in and beyond school.

Member schools report that the Peer Support Program is increasing connectedness amongst their students and is helping to build a positive whole school culture. For new schools, the Program has been instrumental in laying the foundations for a positive and connected school community.

Joseph Banks Secondary College

Joseph Banks Secondary College in WA opened its doors in 2015 and has been running the Peer Support Program for three years. John Vandermark, Peer Support Coordinator, reports “The Peer Support Program continues to go from strength to strength. The Year 7s have responded very well to the program by building good relationships with Peer Leaders and appear a lot more settled and confident at school. Feedback from parents, staff and students alike is incredibly positive. Being a new school, we are focused on developing positive culture and know that this program is a huge step in the right direction.”

North Kellyville Public School

New primary schools also report that the Peer Support Program helps to develop positive relationships and connectedness amongst students. North Kellyville Public School in Sydney’s North West opened its doors in January 2019. According to Peer Support Coordinator, Jessy Smallacombe, “Students at North Kellyville Public School have welcomed Peer Support with open arms and look forward to our weekly sessions where they can connect with their new friends. Stage 3 students are understanding the importance of their leadership in creating positive relationships with their peers and leading sessions. Our Peer Support Leaders are committed to being encouraging and friendly to others.”

Busby Public School

Established schools are also reporting how the Peer Support Program is connecting their school’s community and building a range of transferable life skills in their students. Busby Public School are in their first year of implementing the Peer Support Program as part of their student wellbeing initiatives.

Nicole Brasier, Relieving Assistant Principal explains, “Busby Public School is a small school in South Western Sydney. We wanted to help bring a feeling of connectedness amongst our students so that they could develop peer relations and friendships with less teacher input. Students could then utilise the new skills they have learned in Peer Support to develop further friendships when they see each other out in the community. We celebrated our new Peer Leaders by holding a special assembly to present our leaders with a certificate of training and the badges to proudly wear when we hold our Peer Support lessons.”

Bourke Street Public School

Bourke Street Public School in Sydney is in their second year of implementing the Program. Laura McLaughlin, Assistant Principal, observes “Over this time, students have formed and maintained strong cross grade relationships, highlighted in the increased level of social problem solving evident in the playground, in conjunction with an enhanced sense of connection and widened support networks from students in Years K-6. Students are excited every Friday to attend Peer Support and this connection is fostered in following terms in which the school provides formal opportunities for Peer Support Groups to work together on community activities.

Peer Leader Training is a particular highlight for both our staff and students, as it is extremely engaging, enjoyable and beneficial in developing student leadership capacity and provides an opportunity for staff to really get to know students and witness their strengths develop within a different context. In regards to the Peer Support sessions, a supervising teacher commented that “leaders negotiated their roles and responsibilities with increasing awareness of their communication skills and interpersonal skills, and felt ownership over their responsibility in leading the group”. A group member thoroughly enjoyed “making friends with other students, learning how to be resilient and patient and discovering how to be kind and things you can do when you are sad”.”

Oxley Park Public School

This year was Oxley Park Public School’s first Peer Support Program. Tristan East, Learning & Support Teacher, observes “There was great anticipation among the staff and students about the benefits of the program and how well the atmosphere of our school community may benefit from such a fantastic opportunity. This was particularly evident in the senior student body that took a leadership position by teaching our younger students the important lessons each week.

Students were taught valuable lessons about building and maintaining positive relationships while at school. Each week students were encouraged to continue to build upon these valuable lessons with the goal of making new opportunities in the social sphere of school life and also by transferring these new skills into their wider community life. Also, students are now encouraging each other to solve social problems by themselves.”

Connecting Through the ‘Squirm’

Why Connect?

A recent article published by Melbourne University researchers outlines some important aspects of connectedness. A strong sense of connectedness has been shown to contribute to pro-social behaviour, reduced risk-taking behaviour and emotional wellbeing.

The degree to which young people feel a sense of connection to school is also one of the prime motivators for attendance, hence it has clear links to learning outcomes. Beyond mere attendance however, the researchers have found that the experience of belonging which can arise under the right circumstances contributes to students’ readiness to engage deeply in their learning and immerse themselves in ways that can lead to higher achievement.

Developing connectedness between students, teachers and families ideally comes about as a result of effective policies and practices, realised within an inclusive and supportive school culture. Whilst it could be seen as a by-product of other actions, the significance of connectedness means that it deserves attention in its own right.

Schools can ensure that connectedness is fostered by providing effective adult support, creating a healthy physical and emotional environment, cultivating the belief that learning is important and ensuring that students have a positive peer group.

Connecting Through the ‘Squirm’

“True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable and learn how to be present with people — without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments.” 

– Brene Brown

Including a whole school cohort in the Peer Leaders’ training usually means that there will be some young people taking part who may feel vulnerable and uncomfortable, not having previously thought of themselves as potential leaders. However feedback from schools tells us that the connections that are created as a result of both the supportive training experience, and then later the group facilitation, are both effective and often enduring.

With the focus on empathy in the Program, the Leaders’ experience of ‘knowingly walking into hard moments’ is certainly recognised. The courage needed is real, and helps shape the true belonging that comes about as part of the group experience.

Our Student Representative Council Leadership Workshop and student training materials also support connections between young people. These resources are designed to create purposeful school structures and skilled leaders that can activate student participation and make a difference. Sometimes this process can cause a bit of ‘squirm’ for teachers, as they enable students to use their voice authentically. The experience of belonging to and making a difference for a community, that such opportunities can create, is well worth the ‘hard moments’.

How Leadership Can Help Your Students Flourish

As educators we are aware of the challenges and pressures faced by our students, and reported rising levels of anxiety. High academic expectations, adverse online experiences and fears about the future of our planet are often quoted in the media as contributing to the concerns of young people.  Young people themselves report that coping with stress, study problems, mental health and body image are the areas that cause them most concern.  (Mission Australia Youth Survey Report 2018). 

Is it wise and helpful then, to add to our expectations of students that they also take on leadership roles? Isn’t this just adding more pressure?

Conceptualising and facilitating student leadership in a purposeful way can ensure that it provides students with practical skills and agency, as well as the potential to enhance both wellbeing and academic outcomes.

A recent article published by the Alliance of Girls Schools Australasia, highlights the significance of intrinsic motivation in a world where ‘learners are required to independently access and process copious amounts of information’.  Schools’ growing emphasis on the development of critical thinking, creativity and collaborative approaches means that individuals require increasing levels of self-awareness also, so that students can be mindful of their personal strengths and values so they can actively and purposefully engage these in their learning.

The article also references research which indicates ‘that students who are intrinsically motivated to learn have higher academic performance and complete more years of education than students who are not intrinsically driven’. The benefits to behaviour, learning and achievement of intrinsic motivation, as opposed to external rewards, have been proven in numerous studies over the years.

Experiences of student leadership that are purposeful and involve positive connections with teachers and peers can contribute to the intrinsic motivation needed to support effective learning and wellbeing.  Self-determination theory posits that autonomy, competence and relatedness sustain intrinsic motivation.   These can arise from student leadership when it is supported by appropriate training, ongoing support and feedback, and involves young people working collaboratively to solve authentic problems and create positive connections.

Educators are continuing to look for authentic opportunities for student agency and voice in learning processes, as exemplified in 2018’s Through Growth to Achievement report.  Likewise, schools across Australia, led particularly by Victoria, are responding to the need to provide meaningful outlets and support for young people to be heard and to participate actively in ensuring their safety and wellbeing.  Developing and sustaining leadership programs that equip students with both the skills to express themselves, and the mechanisms to make a difference to their communities can contribute powerfully to students’ autonomy, competence and relatedness, and hence the quality of their motivation.

There is currently a plethora of resources and programs available for schools to choose from in order to support their students’ positive behaviour and wellbeing.  For various developmental reasons, the impact of universal programs on adolescents has been found to be less effective than at other ages.  A recent paper by Yeager, Dahl and Dweck proposes that is due to the increased sensitivity of adolescents to the need for respect and status. 

There is an opportunity and a distinct advantage for schools to be strategic about student leadership:  to find ways to ensure that the structure and content of leadership programs and activities enable young people to experience the respect of their peers, and an appropriate sense of status as a result.  In so doing, it may be possible that the effectiveness of behaviour and wellbeing programs for adolescents is enhanced.

The experience of supported and skilled leadership, rather than simply adding to students’ concerns and commitments, can potentially contribute strongly to young people’s flourishing.  Peer Support Australia have developed a Student Representative Council Workshop to support teachers to optimise authentic student engagement in, and leadership of such structures.  The Peer Support program also enables rewarding leadership experiences which can contribute to students’ intrinsic motivation and positive behaviour through the respect that leaders experience from their groups and the sense of competence and relatedness that their involvement provides.

Student Voices Matter

Building student voice and supporting student agency is a key focus of the new Australian Student Wellbeing Framework. Authentic student participation is the hallmark of the Peer Support program and is further reinforced and activated by Peer Support SRC workshops. The workshops provide a springboard of ideas and practices to enhance and develop a culture where students are active participants in their own learning and wellbeing and this fosters a sense of connectedness.

The focus of group discussion and individual feedback at recent workshops from Primary and Secondary SRC coordinators highlighted the need to energise their schools SRC in order to provide active and meaningful participation of students across school life.

Student voice is getting greater traction in Victorian schools with a recent change by the state government to make it mandatory for students to be elected to every high school council and given full voting rights. This is a significant step in activating and supporting student voice. There are a variety of ways to empower students to be strong leaders who can make a real difference in your school at an SRC level.

Developing authentic student voice and engagement are current hot topics. Participants at our recent SRC workshops valued the opportunity to discuss and reflect on this. What do you think? How are you enabling this successfully at your school? What would help you to do it better?

Australian students are becoming increasingly disengaged at school – here’s why

Pearl Subban, Monash University

Around one in five Australian school students don’t find school engaging, which means they are less likely to learn properly.. It’s an issue that tends to worsen as students become older.

A study showed that in year 7, 70% of students observed found school engaging, but in year 9, this dropped to 55%.

Part of the reason is that the brightest kids are not being challenged enough, leading to students becoming disconnected and disengaged from their studies.

Disengagement has resulted in Australian classrooms becoming rowdier and bullying becoming more prevalent.

A 2012 study revealed that just 60% of students in South Australian secondary schools found school engaging. While over two thirds of teachers reported disengaged behaviours on an “almost daily basis”.

Why are students not engaged at school?

There are many possible reasons for disengagement. Among these are the possibilities that the tasks being set are too challenging or too boring resulting in students being easily distracted; or that lessons being taught are perceived as uninteresting or irrelevant.

This has marked implications for the academic progress of these students, who are then at risk of dropping out of school prior to completion.

Disengagement can lead to dropping out

Around 25% of disengaged young people do not complete school, with some variation nationally from primary to secondary school. This should be concerning.

Of the 25% who did not complete school in 2013-14, one in four students indicated that they did not like school, with some indicating that their disinterest was on account of not doing well.

Of concern is the quietly disengaged student, who sometimes goes unnoticed because they are usually compliant, but not as productive as they could be.

How to make students more engaged

While engaged students are keen to perform well, achieve highly, and consequently look forward to successful post-school lives, disengagement can lead to poorer academic performance for some students, and therefore limited success. This can in turn affect their quality of life.

Personalised learning approach

Teaching children in the same way means some of the brightest kids often are not challenged enough. Personalised learning has been identified as one of the essentials to school success. This involves using individually designed strategies which tap into student strengths to help increase the level of student engagement. This could include, using open learning spaces, student developed timetables and behaviour guidelines.

Add sense of purpose to learning

Getting students involved with projects and using real-life scenarios could contribute to a sense of ownership and bring enjoyment to learning. Through these approaches, students are more likely to feel that school is relevant, important and prepares them meaningfully for life outside school.

Foster student wellbeing

Positive interactions between teachers and students can help create classroom stability, feelings of security and overall gratification with the learning process. Forming positive relationships at school can also contribute towards a student’s emotional and social wellbeing.

Teachers need to compare their strategies with their peers in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the different methods they use to increase student engagement at schools.The Conversation

Pearl Subban, Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Dr Helen Street’s “Contextual Wellbeing: Creating Positive Schools From the Inside Out.”

Summer Reading

Over summer we’ve enjoyed reading Dr Helen Street’s “Contextual Wellbeing: Creating Positive Schools From the Inside Out.” She considers the social side of wellbeing, which has not necessarily received the attention that it needs in order to truly allow our young people and communities to flourish.

Dr Street challenges educators with the observation that our schools, their practices, policies and environments are not always set up in ways that actually enable the development of the social cohesion needed for genuine individual flourishing.

Her review of research highlights the importance of programs that work to shape school context through the development of positive relationships across the whole school population. “Equity, cohesion and creativity… along with opportunities for learning through collaboration and play, underlie the development of positive relationships and an overall sense of belonging within the school community.” (p.110)

“Equity, cohesion and creativity… along with opportunities for learning through collaboration and play, underlie the development of positive relationships and an overall sense of belonging within the school community.”

We’re proud that Peer Support programs have been enabling schools with the processes and content to help develop cohesion and belonging for over 40 years.

Our programs involve the whole school population in primary schools, and over a few years of operation in a secondary school, every student will also have been involved. This is a key factor for the effectiveness of a wellbeing program, and has a powerful impact on the development of equity and cohesion. (p. 27)

Is your school ready for a positive start to 2019?  How cohesive is your school community?

You can buy Dr Helen Street’s ‘Contextual Wellbeing’ here.
(please note we are not affiliated with Dr Helen Street in any way)

3 Expert Tips for Implementing Peer Support

Get Organised in Term 1

As Term 1 gets started you will be actioning your implementation strategy to ensure that your students get the most out of The Peer Support sessions. These top tips will help set you and your students up for success.

Raise Awareness

Use the resources in The Peer Support Manual to ensure all the community, particularly new teachers and parents, understand the operations and benefits of the program. Our Wellbeing Education Consultants are also available to deliver student, staff and parent talks to support your school’s successful communication.

Train Leaders

Before starting the program for 2019, Secondary school Peer Leaders may benefit from the 90 minute refresher training – you can find this in the Secondary Manual. 

Primary Peer Leaders will be set up for success by working through their 2 day training program before beginning the program in Term 2 or 3. If you need assistance with this contact us today.

Briefing and Debriefing

Coordinating Teachers need to ensure that their team of supervising and class teachers have all the information they need to support their Peer Leaders. Some extra time taken in the early stages really helps the sessions run smoothly, so use the resources in your Manual to ensure this is done well, using the feedback forms to inform ongoing guidance for Peer Leaders.

Good luck with Peer Support at your school. Remember that our Wellbeing Education Consultants are available to support you.